Friday, March 27, 2009

Fermentation Friday - From ground to grist

I'm hesitant to mention we've already covered this chapter.
I'm a bit reluctant to admit, I feel like we've been here before. One doesn't have to dig deep into this year's paltry archives to see that as far as "doing things differently" in 2009 is concerned, I'd already declared this to be my "year of the session" (which, admittedly, hasn't begun yet, but more on that next week), and figured that the subject of the new and improved homebrewer Rob 2.0 was one best left to wallow in the same closet as the other broken promises, those charted out under a post-holiday sugar-withdrawal delirium, next to the weights, and the Proust, and the vegetables. But while there's an outward similarity in this month's topic to the recent resolution-themed round of Fermentation Friday, our host for this month's carnival does seem to be searching for a slightly different angle, one pointing towards the notion of spring as rebirth, with a vernal air of optimism rather than the stern, dutifully resolute promises made in the winter. Distracted by a languorous breeze choked with pollen and busy insects and an all around procrastinate, lethargic mood, it's difficult for me to chain my body to my desk and my mind to any concrete thoughts. It's a casualty of the kindness of Nature, one that may inspire some to indulge in some spring cleaning while only convincing others that it's high time to find a nice warm rock and sink deeply into the zone of not-caring-itude.

So I turned to read a little Twain:
"San Francisco is built on sand hills, but they are prolific sand hills. They yield a generous vegetation. All the rare flowers which people in "the States" rear with such patient care in parlor flower-pots and green-houses, flourish luxuriantly in the open air there all the year round. Calla lilies, all sorts of geraniums, passion flowers, moss roses—I do not know the names of a tenth part of them. I only know that while New Yorkers are burdened with banks and drifts of snow, Californians are burdened with banks and drifts of flowers, if they only keep their hands off and let them grow...

I have elsewhere spoken of the endless Winter of Mono, California, and but this moment of the eternal Spring of San Francisco."
And my mind wandered to those very same Calla lilies in abundant bloom in our very own garden at the moment, strange, wild, oddly secret eruptions of white and yellow superflowers that haven't paid the slightest attention to how completely disregarded they've been by human care, returning annually with the wild onions and little clouds of gnats and annual grasses that point their seeds up in arrows for kids to throw at one another, and how funny I thought it was to see waves of plum blossoms shook by the wind, laying like miniature lily pads on the surface of our roiling brew kettle and how oddly appropriate it was that the beer's name was going to refer to Tokyo?

And then I bothered to read some Thoreau:
"MEANWHILE MY BEANS, the length of whose rows, added together, was seven miles already planted, were impatient to be hoed, for the earliest had grown considerably before the latest were in the ground; indeed they were not easily to be put off. What was the meaning of this so steady and self-respecting, this small Herculean labor, I knew not. I came to love my rows, my beans, though so many more than I wanted. They attached me to the earth, and so I got strength like Antæus. But why should I raise them? Only Heaven knows. This was my curious labor all summer — to make this portion of the earth's surface, which had yielded only cinquefoil, blackberries, johnswort, and the like, before, sweet wild fruits and pleasant flowers, produce instead this pulse. What shall I learn of beans or beans of me?"
Which, after a quick digression into the words of Edward Abbey, made me think of the peculiar differences in relationships we build with the plants that we sow from seed, for food, and those stowaways that find their way in to disrupt the perfectly aligned rows of life we assume to have control over, and those that just appear as if by magic, through an alchemical confluence of sun, water, wind and food, the wildflowers which come in wicked waves or not at all, and the silly way in which I document the purely ornamental growth of those tenacious weeds in pots in our yard, the ones that climb up the outside railings and banisters, like a lupulin Jolly Roger climbing the mast, flying our homebrewing freak flag high for everyone to see.

And lastly on to a little John Muir:
Father was proud of his garden and seemed always to be trying to make it as much like Eden as possible, and in a corner of it he gave each of us a little bit of ground for our very own in which we planted what we best liked, wondering how the hard dry seeds could change into soft leaves and flowers and find their way out to the light; and, to see how they were coming on, we used to dig up the larger ones, such as peas and beans, every day. My aunt had a corner assigned to her in our garden which she filled with lilies, and we all looked with the utmost respect and admiration at that precious lily-bed and wondered whether when we grew up we should ever be rich enough to own one anything like so grand. We imagined that each lily was worth an enormous sum of money and never dared to touch a single leaf or petal of them. We really stood in awe of them. Far, far was I then from the wild lily gardens of California that I was destined to see in their glory.
And then it hit me. I really need to get outside. And while we've indulged in minor homegrown additions to brews in the past, what better time than right now to really get one's hands dirty, outside, in the garden, with my daughter and a trowel and a misguided set of predictions of how it'll all turn out. We can scheme and plan, shoo away the pesky squirrels and freeze perfectly still when the hummingbirds zip in close, hoping they won't notice us, maybe fly even a little closer. But where to start, if not with the staple hops or grains? Enter this new addition to our DIY library: The Homebrewer's Garden. Don't get me wrong - I have *no* idea what experiments this new indulgence will engender, haven't not even cracked the spine on this one yet (but a hop-free herbal saison does seem appealing). Did I mention it's really quite pleasant out? Like 75 degrees, with a subtle breeze and the hint of apple blossom in the air? Too pleasant to even read, at the moment.

Many thanks to Byron at for hosting this month's Fermentation Friday, a monthly blogging carnival gathered around the topic of homebrewing, originated by Beer Bits 2.



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